Student Legal Services helps students fight Suburban Express lawsuits


The Black Sheep voted Suburban Express the “worst way to get home” in its “Sheepie Awards.”

By Ali Braboy

As Suburban Express continues to file lawsuits against students for contract violations, Annie Mauro is one student who has not given up fighting against the company.

Mauro, junior in FAA, has been involved with Suburban since 2013, and the company has dedicated an online page to her, which includes information about Mauro, her brother and mother.

On Feb. 22, 2013 Mauro purchased a Suburban Express ticket online to travel to Woodfield Mall from Champaign after her brother’s car would not start. After attempting to get on the bus, Mauro said the driver denied her the chance to ride because she did not have a printed ticket. She then ordered another ticket, this time to Woodridge Jewel, printed it and presented it to the next Suburban bus driver who came at a later time that day.

Mauro said she filled out a refund request in February of 2013 for the first bus she never rode, but after not hearing back from Suburban after several attempts to contact them, her mother disputed the credit card charge for the ticket.

During winter break of the following year, Mauro was summoned for a court date, held on March 7, 2014. A trial was then held on April 14, 2014, and she was represented by Thomas Betz, directing attorney at Student Legal Services.

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Mauro won the trial and the full transcript was later posted on the page dedicated to her on Suburban Express’ website. She said her mother is currently contacting attorneys to deal with the online interaction the company has posted against Mauro and her family.

According to the Champaign County Circuit Clerk’s website, seven similar small claims lawsuits have been filed by Suburban Express in 2015, all of them on Feb. 3. There have been no small new claims filed by Suburban Express in Lake, Cook or Ford counties in 2015, where the company had previously filed. Between 2012 and 2013, Suburban filed 126 lawsuits in Ford County against customers.

Suburban Express recently changed its “Terms & Conditions” so any legal action arising on the online transaction of tickets should take place in Ford County, roughly 30 miles north of Champaign.

In a statement on its website, the company said it chose Ford County “because of high availability of court dates, efficient court operation, excellent staff work ethic, low costs for both parties, easy parking, and other factors.”

Betz said Student Legal Services can represent students if they are enrolled at the University and have paid the student service fee, which includes the student legal services. According to the Student Legal Services Operational Plan, Student Legal Services can only represent eligible students who have cases in or originating in Champaign County.

When asked how many students he has represented in Suburban Express cases, Betz said he does not even keep track anymore.

“You will not find other businesses routinely or regularly suing their clients for such small amounts,” Betz said. “It is not a business practice that I have found to be common in this community.”

He said the representatives provided to students by Student Legal Services can be very beneficial to students because generally, a cheap attorney can cost around $150 an hour, he said.

Mauro said if the case had not been in or originated in Champaign County, she would not have been able to pay for an attorney.

Betz said when Student Legal Services sees students who are dealing with Suburban Express, the case usually involves students being sued by Suburban for what the transportation company calls a violation of contract. Student Legal Services deals with those cases as contract cases.

The impact of dealing with legal cases affects students differently when it comes to emotions, Betz said. Sometimes situations have little impact on students, and they recognize that they have made a mistake and will simply pay a ticket, but some students who were being sued in Ford County last year came in with tears, he said. Some international students even feared the lawsuit would not allow them back in the country, and others feared it would go on their credit history, he added.

“Court is always a stressor. There’s no question, and we know from our own assessment that we do in this office of students … We had students that tell us … they would have considered leaving school,” Betz said. “We know it has impact.”

While it wasn’t easy, Mauro believes choosing to go to court against Suburban was the right choice. To her, “it’s not about the money,” it’s the principle of fighting for herself.

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